The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons voted 4-0 to reject a request from Hubert L. Michael Jr. for a clemency recommendation to the governor. Unless a court stays the execution or Gov. Tom Corbett grants clemency and reduces the sentence to life in prison, state officials plan to execute Michael for the death of Trista Elizabeth Eng.
Michael, 56, who has admitted killing the girl, is scheduled to receive a lethal injection Thursday night at Rockview State Prison in Bellefonte. If put to death, he would become the first inmate in 13 years to be executed in Pennsylvania and the fourth since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1972.
Suzanne Eng, Trista's mother, set the tone Wednesday for relatives and friends who emotionally appealed to the pardons board to keep Michael's execution on track.
"He kidnapped her, he raped her and then he executed her," the mother said. "As she begged him not to kill her, he shot her three times" and left her body on state game lands in York County.
A clinical psychologist and a clinical social worker who testified on Michael's behalf said he has symptoms of Asperger's disorder that impair his ability to make sound decisions and get along with others. They said that may help explain why he asked for the death penalty and has repeatedly changed his mind about pursuing appeals.
But York County District Attorney Tom Kearney said Michael has a long record of violent crime and does not deserve mercy, calling him "the worst of the worst."
"I despise the man," said Morgan Eng, the victim's younger brother. "I think about him every day, wondering if he's asking for forgiveness."
Michael was not charged with rape in the Eng case because of a lack of physical evidence, although prosecutors suspected it.
Ron Travis, one of Michael's lawyers at the pardons board hearing, declined to say whether they would seek reconsideration of the board decision.
Michael's lawyers appealed U.S. District Court rulings rejecting a pair of requests to stay the execution to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.
In a related development, a federal judge ruled that the state Corrections Department cannot use curtains or any other method to prevent witnesses from seeing and hearing all of what transpires in Michael's execution if it goes forward Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane's ruling in favor of two newspapers that challenged the state's execution protocol included a preliminary injunction that applies only to the scheduled execution and requires that the witnesses be allowed "full visual and auditory observation" of what goes on.
Corrections Department officials are weighing whether to appeal Kane's ruling, spokeswoman Susan McNaughton said.
State prison rules allow six members of the media to witness executions, along with prison officials, six citizens, four victims' representatives and the inmate's spiritual adviser.
The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Patriot-News of Harrisburg argue that they have a First Amendment right to view executions as a surrogate for the public and that the ability to witness the entire execution is essential to thorough reporting on the process.
Previously, officials have used curtains to block witnesses' view of the death chamber until after an intravenous line is inserted, again if it is necessary to physically check the inmate's consciousness after the first of three drugs is administered and finally when the coroner examines the inmate after the injections are completed.